Confessions of a Serial Storyteller – The Sequel

Kristin Luck - Serial Storyteller
Though she’d never admit it, growth strategist and business consultant Kristin Luck is a rock star in the market research world. Her jam, besides helping propel companies to exponential growth, is engaging audiences through storytelling. She’s leveraged her storytelling acumen into successes as a highly regarded thought leader, keynote speaker and valued advisor. We’ve delved into the topic of storytelling for market research with Kristin on this blog before. In fact, as both a testament to storytelling and Kristin’s popularity within the market research community, our first interview post with her is one of our most popular to date. That being the case, we decided to circle back to Kristin with a fresh set of questions on the topic of storytelling and its role in market research. Lucky for us, Kristin was generous enough to indulge us again. Here’s the rundown from our follow-up session:

Q: If you were to teach a class to market research professionals on how to be an effective storyteller, what topic would you cover on Day One?

KL: As it happens, I just led a storytelling workshop for ESOMAR in Amsterdam two months ago, and there’s one element in these workshops that I really try to stress – establishing a real connection with the person or persons you’re telling your story to. You need to be working with stories that are relevant and meaningful to your audience. Unfortunately, I think in many cases, people don’t take the time to establish a connection before they try to sell or communicate something. We get so focused on trying to communicate what it is that we want to communicate that we forget that we’re talking to real people and that connection component is really, really important. So, when I give a workshop, we spend the first hour talking about making that connection, actually practicing that skill, so that you can create connection in the generally short period of time you have in a business setting.

Being diligent about doing research in advance has made a huge impact in terms of my ability to connect with people.

Q: Is there a difference between trying to make a connection with a specific person versus a broader audience?

KL: Yes. An audience is more challenging because there are multiple people that you’re talking to and trying to connect with. If I’m talking to an audience of clients with a particular brand, then I’m trying to connect with them through an experience that I’ve had with that particular brand. Or through an experience I’ve had in a particular city if I’m speaking to them in that city or region. There’s a lot of ways you can make that connection with a group based on shared experiences.

When it comes to connecting with a person I don’t really know, it’s easier now since we live in this unparalleled time of access to people’s personal information. So, if I’m meeting with someone for the first time or if I’m trying to establish a connection with someone in some meaningful way, then I’ll do a fair amount of research on them. I’ll go online and try to learn more about them. I’ll look to see if they’ve published a paper or any research recently. I’ll check out any pictures that I might find on Facebook or Google images- really anything that will give me clues as to who they are as a person and what makes them tick. Of course, there are always times that I don’t really have anything in common with somebody, but even that can be a point of connection or a good conversation starter. That’s unusual though because there’s almost always some common link between all of us. But certainly, being diligent about doing research in advance has made a huge impact in terms of my ability to connect with people.

Q: What’s the one storytelling skill and/or device that every market researcher should master?

KL: A lot of the data we work with in market research isn’t what I would consider really compelling. It’s hard to get your audience excited when you’re presenting results from the tenth iteration of a soup label package test, right? So, market researchers could really benefit by being able to tell stories in a way that connects with something memorable for their audience. The trick there is delivering meaning that goes deeper than just what you’re trying to convey so that the story you’re telling truly resonates. It’s definitely challenging, but worth the effort. Of course there are folks that would disagree. Steve Needel wrote an article on GreenBook where he argued that market researchers don’t need to adopt storytelling practices, concluding that many of us aren’t natural storytellers so working to master the skill is pointless. I agree with Steve to a certain degree in that some people are more naturally gifted storytellers than others. That said, there are a number of skills relevant to storytelling that you can definitely learn—like learning how to establish a connection with people and taking the necessary steps to ensure your research story connects in a way that’s memorable and meaningful. Now, will learning these skills make you the best storyteller in the world? Maybe not. But I believe you can absolutely learn the skills to become a proficient and effective storyteller.

Q: As an industry that’s focused on helping brands and organizations craft and refine their stories, why do you think market research has been so late to the game to realize the value of storytelling in what we do?

KL: For one, a lot of researchers are coming from a quantitative data analytics background, which has traditionally been very metrics focused and less so on the warmer storytelling elements. When thinking of research presentations that are more storytelling experiences, they tend to be more qualitative in nature. Qualitative researchers, who generally work with much smaller data sets and, in general, work with data that is more directional, have a lot more latitude to convey respondents’ perceptions and/or preferences in more of a storytelling style. Having been a journalism major and spending my entire college years writing and crafting stories, I admit, going into research, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more of a storytelling aspect to quantitative reporting. I also think we haven’t done ourselves any favors by moving so much of our data reporting online because there is a greater propensity to understand where the real stories are when people are doing face-to-face research. We’ve lost some of that one-to-one connection with respondents, which facilitates greater access to “story worth” research. The tradeoff is delivering against tighter research timelines in part fueled by client demand and in part fueled by technology. As result, we’ve become acclimated to packing as much data as we can into shorter, more succinct reports with shorter timeframes, which in some cases works against storytelling.

Q: Do you think quantitative researchers overestimate the impact of their data on their clients or who they report to?

KL: I think anytime you collect and manage data, you have a better understanding of it and you probably place more importance on its individual components than the client might. In many of the research reports I’ve read, there are a lot of assumptions made about how much somebody knows about a subject or about the research that was conducted. I think it’s smart to take a step back and really think about creating a story that explains the background and research goals, and then segues into the results with a focus on how to deliver maximum impact.

Q: What role does technology play in helping us become better, more effective storytellers? Are there some additional challenges as result of technology?

KL: The primary challenge is something I highlighted earlier, which is, as researchers, technology has facilitated more separation between us and respondents and less of that one-on-one connection that really helps develop research storytelling experiences. That said, I think we’re entering a time of greater emphasis on connecting with respondents and researchers are now realizing how important it is. And there are new technologies that have been developed in terms of data collection that can enhance and bring more of a storytelling experience to research—Voxpopme with its ability to capture respondent webcam video during surveys, is one example that comes to mind. There’s been continued improvements to data visualization and storytelling through visuals from reporting technology solutions like Infotools and Dapresy. And then, as I mentioned, if you’re using storytelling for sales and marketing, it’s really about being able to use social media as a way to do research on the people you’re presenting to or the people you’re trying to connect with. And to leverage that research to figure out the things you have in common with people and where you have opportunities to connect.

It’s that innate curiosity or desire to keep learning and to get outside of what I do day-to-day… That’s an important part of fueling that thought process for what’s going to be a good story or what I can talk about the next time I see a client.

Q: Where do you go for your storytelling inspiration?

KL: A lot of the stories I use have a very personal component to them. I don’t have any issue sharing personal stories with people as I’m a pretty open book. I’m on the road quite a bit, and that’s also a good source because I interact with so many different types of people in all different sorts of situations. I also read a lot—I read Fast Company and the New Yorker almost every day, I read a lot of online news and magazines and trade journals. It’s really about just having that natural curiosity about things outside of my own scope as a researcher and business consultant. It’s that innate curiosity or desire to keep learning and to get outside of what I do day-to-day… That’s an important part of fueling that thought process for what’s going to be a good story or what I can talk about the next time I see a client.

Great stuff here from Kristin! If you’re looking to up your storytelling game by learning from the master herself, Kristin will be leading her next ESOMAR Storytelling Workshop in Seattle early next year. What’s your story on storytelling and its value to market research? Add your comment below or share it with us on Twitter at @Dialsmith.